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OAS Panel of Experts asks the ICC Prosecutor’s Office to prosecute senior officials

On May 3, the OAS Panel of Experts on Possible Crimes Against Humanity in Venezuela presented its third public report. The Panel concluded that “Venezuela is not complying with its obligations to demand accountability”, so “the intervention of the Prosecutor’s Office of the International Criminal Court is key to promoting the investigation and prosecution of crimes against humanity and preventing their recurrence in Venezuela”.

In this edition we present a synthesis of the most relevant findings of the report. In Venezuela, the commission of crimes against humanity continues and the international community could act decisively to prevent further harm and fight impunity.

The Panel began its presentation by stating that “there has been no investigation or prosecution against mid- and high-ranking agents.” This means that those who have committed crimes against humanity remain in power, and, therefore, retain the ability to continue perpetrating harm against the population and aggravate the country’s crisis.

From the 183 cases analyzed, the Panel concluded that there was no criminal investigation of sexual violence or persecution as autonomous crimes. In relation to crimes of arbitrary detention, the same result is obtained. The Panel argues that these are cases that are part of a pattern aimed at fueling repression and silencing, which is why the actors in democratic life can hardly maintain a public position different from that of the government. Of the total cases studied, only 6% have resulted in convictions, the majority from incidents after 2017, so that a large group of victims lacks justice options in the country.

Regarding the cases that are being investigated by the State, “significant delays are evident, which cannot normally be explained.” In the Latin American context, the Panel points out, it is normal to find out delays in criminal prosecutions, but when examining the Venezuelan context, “an endemic problem is observed within the State that responds to the lack of separation of powers, the lack of independence of power judicial, and a deliberate policy of the attorney general’s office of not fulfilling its mandate”.

The Panel made reference to the fact that, although there are people identified with clear locations, and some with arrest warrants, they still remain in office. In the terms of the Panel, “the Venezuelan prosecutor’s office has not been willing to require and obtain information from other state agencies to bring the investigated cases to trial, which results in cases being delayed indefinitely, leaving victims defenseless.”

Likewise, the Panel alludes to “unused evidence, despite being public evidence,” as well as a “systematic failure on the part of the attorney general and the Venezuelan police to carry out effective investigations in order to gather evidence.” The lack of compliance with the prosecutor’s obligations has been summarized in a “systematic behavior of assigning minor charges to mitigate the responsibility of the agents.”

Another of the fundamental findings is that the investigations do not have as their objective the possible commission of crimes against humanity. The Panel holds that the cases investigated by the State are considered in isolation, which is why the penalties do not reflect the seriousness of the facts, nor is the chain of command prosecuted or brought to trial, who are ultimately the ones who issue orders and protect or promote such international crimes.

The impunity gap is significant. According to the Panel, “in 52.5% of the cases there has been no investigation, despite the victims’ statements.” The State is aware of these crimes, and even though several of them are notaries, it simply ignores them. In roughly 1,500 reported cases of torture, 83.6% do not have records of investigative procedures, while in 70% of the cases analyzed regarding extrajudicial executions there are no accusations.

Moreover, “judicial processes are used to keep close tabs on victims, monitor them and threaten them, even to tell them what they should put in their statements.” The Panel expresses concern that “in a significant number of cases, the victims were told what they could not say while testifying at the public prosecutor’s office, as well as certain names (…) since there would be consequences, if not.”

The panel is of the opinion that accountability is impossible under these circumstances in Venezuela. “Victims have no access to any protection mechanism at all.” There is no reparation for the crimes committed in the last 10 years. Venezuela is failing to meet its obligation to account, and the Prosecutor’s Office of the International Criminal Court has a unique opportunity to focus on high ranks, “as a matter of urgency, to prevent the commission of new crimes against the civilian population.”

The panel recommends that the ICC prosecutor “become more involved, as a matter of urgency, considering the current nature of the crimes, to open investigations against specific individuals and advance these cases to the Criminal Court in order to issue arrest warrants.” For its part, the panel urges the Venezuelan State to “immediately cease the commission of crimes, cover-up operations and repression.”

In view of these advances and the ongoing pre-electoral repression, AlertaVenezuela calls on the international community to endorse this report of the OAS Panel of Experts and to continue sending contributions to the ICC prosecutor’s office so that it can continue its investigation, identifying officials involved and the crimes committed. The progress of this function may have a deterrent effect in Venezuela and protect the civilian population.